This Audi Quattro Paris-Dakar Prototype Is Actually a Range Rover in Disguise

Now available in just about any Audi out there, the quattro four-wheel-drive system is a whopping 43 years old as of 2023. Believe it or not, its first iteration was introduced back in 1980. That's when the company also launched the Audi Quattro (or Ur-Quattro), a midsize car that became a rally legend.
Audi Quattro Paris-Dakar prototype 9 photos
Photo: 19Bozzy92/YouTube
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The first rally car to take advantage of the then-new rules that allowed the use of four-wheel drive in racing, the Quattro scored its first World Rally Championship win in 1981 and won the title in 1982. The German company won its second championship in 1984 and a total of 23 races by the end of 1985.

These achievements were scored with different iterations of the Quattro, including the A1, A2, and Sport Quattro, all evolutions built to meet Group B regulations. The latter had a shorter wheelbase and also spawned a road-going model that is rare and highly sought-after nowadays. The Sport Quattro also won the 1985 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb with Michele Mouton behind the steering wheel.

But even though Group B rally cars were banned due to safety reasons beyond 1986, the Quattro's racing career didn't end there. Bobby Unser won the 1986 Pikes Peak in an evolution of the Sport S1, while Walter Rohrl did the same in 1987 in the more extreme Sport Quattro E2. Audi's domination at Pikes Peak ended in 1988, when Peugeot stepped in with its own rally-based racer, the 405 Turbo 16.

Pikes Peak, however, wasn't the only competition where Group B cars went to retire. Some raced successfully in the grueling Paris-Dakar rally. Porsche won it with the 959, a car that never made it to WRC, while Peugeot did the same with a modified version of the 205 T16. The Audi Quattro never joined the Paris-Dakar officially, but that's not to say that the boxy coupe did not ride the African sand dunes. Because it did, albeit not as a fully-fledged Quattro.

Sure, the car you see here may look like a regular Quattro racer on an off-road-spec suspension, but nothing under the familiar shell has anything to do with Audi. This coupe rides on Range Rover underpinnings, including a 3.5-liter V8 instead of Audi's legendary inline-five powerplant.

What exactly is this contraption, you ask? Well, it's part of a series of Paris-Dakar prototypes built by Italian entrepreneur Franco de Paoli in the 1980s.

De Paoli began modifying production vehicles for the transcontinental rally in 1979. He started off with a Range Rover and then put together a prototype with a body sourced from a Rover 3500 SD1. He began experimenting with Audi Quattro shells in 1985 and built no fewer than five different versions in 1987.

Granted, the privateer didn't succeed against factory-backed racers from Porsche and Peugeot, but it's a project that makes me wonder what would have happened if Audi had also jumped on the Paris-Dakar bandwagon at the time.

Anyway, it's pretty cool that this prototype survived for almost 40 years and we can now see it tackling revival events like the Vernasca Silver Flag in Piacenza, Italy. Hit the play button below to see it go alongside other iconic cars from the past.

Fun fact: de Paoli also rebodied a Mitsubishi Pajero to look somewhat like a Ferrari F40 for the 1989 edition of the endurance race.

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About the author: Ciprian Florea
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Ask Ciprian about cars and he'll reveal an obsession with classics and an annoyance with modern design cues. Read his articles and you'll understand why his ideal SUV is the 1969 Chevrolet K5 Blazer.
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